It had been a perfectly good day. A productive day at work, pleasantly mild weather, a nice walk back to my car. And that’s when the trouble started and the star-crossed day really began.
The car wouldn’t start. It was completely dead. Kish was out of town, and I had to get back home and feed and walk the dogs. But how? It was too late to catch a bus, even if I had known which bus to catch. My friends had all left work. It’s too far to walk, too. So a cab was the only option.
My cab driver had possibly — possibly — lived in Columbus for a month. I directed him to take the fastest way back, following the freeways, but because he didn’t know where the hell he was going he kept it well below the speed limit. It was the slowest cab ride I’ve ever experienced. A little old lady zipped by in an Oldsmobile and gave us the finger. I’m not sure, but I think we may have been passed by a toddler on a tricycle.
Approximately three days and a hefty fare later, I walked to my front door to be greeted by two frantic dogs. I fed them and decided not to change before walking them, but Kasey elected to have an accident just to teach me a lesson for getting home so late, anyway. After cleaning that up and doing the poop patrol duty, then restraining two wildly barking and lunging dogs from attacking a clearly worried woman who was walking a tiny furball, we returned home.
The icemaker picked that time to jam, and when I opened the freezer door to investigate the problem one metric ton of ice fell to the floor, fractured into tiny splinters, and had to be swept up. The first wine glass I picked from the cabinet had a big crack in it, and when I turned to get a new one Penny knocked my plate of food off the counter.
It was the kind of day that made our remote ancestors decide that alcohol needed to be invented.
For years the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was one federal agency that seemed to be a model of governmental efficiency and capability. Like NASA in the glory days of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs, the CDC was a little agency with an important mission and dedicated employees who helped to guide the national responses to epidemics and infectious diseases.
That’s why the recent stories about some appalling security lapses at the CDC are so troubling. In one instance, poor handling of anthrax — a disease that the CDC’s own website cautions can cause serious illness and death — potentially exposed a number of employees to the bacteria. In another incident, CDC employees improperly shipped a deadly strain of bird flu to a Department of Agriculture poultry research lab. The breakdowns are especially disturbing because the CDC also is supposed to ensure that other laboratories follow federal safety standards. The CDC is investigating these breaches and developing new procedures to address the “potential for hubris” in an agency that may have grown too comfortable with working with dangerous spores, bacteria, and infectious agents.
Given the CDC’s public health mission, any security breakdown that could expose people to a deadly infectious disease could be catastrophic. But the CDC’s problems seem to be symptomatic of a larger, equally concerning issue: a broad-scale series of failures in federal agencies. In the past year, we have witnessed a colossal failure in an attempt by the Department of Health and Human Services to build a functioning health insurance exchange website, mass failures by the Veterans Administration to provide adequate care for veterans, a stunning security breach that allowed Edward Snowden to spirit away enormous amounts of highly classified data, and a southern border so porous that thousands of unaccompanied minors have been able to cross into our country. And those are just a few of the stories.
For years, there has been a divide in this country between those who want the government to assume a more significant role in regulating our affairs and those who resist that approach because they believe a larger government role means less freedom and fewer individual liberties. The recent dismal performance of our federal agencies suggests that a new factor should enter into the equation: is the federal government even competent to do what we are asking it to do? In view of the many recent breakdowns in governmental performance, that is a very fair question.